Berthe Morisot Oil Painting Young Woman Watering a Shrub 1876

The above painting was on display in July 2018 at the Pittsburgh Frick museum. It is by Berthe Morisot and this domestic scene is said to be typical of the day for the subject of a female painter. Yet she distinguished herself. The second image will help you to see the brushstrokes that illustrate what one specific quote says about her work: 

"The colours on her canvases assume a remarkable delicacy, softness and velvet-like texture. The white holds reflected lights which carry it to a subtle shade of tea-rose or ashen grey, the carmine passes insensibly into vermilion, the green of the foliage runs through the whole gamut of tones, from the palest to the most accentuated. The artist gives the finishing touch to her canvases by adding slight brush-strokes here and there — it is as if she were shedding flowers."

Read on for a biography that is republished from Manet and the French impressionists: Pissarro--Claude Monet--Sisley--Renoir--Berthe Morisot--Cézanne--Guillaumin by Duret, Théodore, 1838-1927; Flitch, J. E. Crawford (John Ernest Crawford), Publication date 1910, Publisher Philadelphia : J. B. Lippincott company.

About Berthe Morisot

Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot was born at Bourges on  January 14. 1841. She belonged to a family in which the pursuit of art was a tradition. Her grandfather was a distinguished  architect. Her father, Tiburce Morisot, whose early inclinations  had been towards art, had studied in the Ecole des Beaux- Arts, and had visited Italy, Sicily, and Greece. Then he had embarked  upon a quite different career, that of administration, first as Sub-Prefect in various districts, and then as Prefect of the Department  of Cher from 1840 to 1848. It was while he was living at Bourges as Prefect that Berthe, the youngest of his three daughters, was born. At an early age Berthe and her next older sister, Edma,  showed a great gift of drawing. Their father, who had not forgotten his own youthful artistic tastes, was delighted to encourage them. When in the early days of the Empire he came with his family to live at Paris, he was able to develop the artistic talent  of his daughters. For their master he selected Guichard, who, though he never showed any originality as an artist, was an excellent teacher.

When the two sisters had sufficiently profited by the lessons of their first master, they felt themselves drawn towards Corot. They made his acquaintance about 1862. He took a liking to them, and became their guide in matters of art; but as any sort of teaching was distasteful to him, he sent them to his friend Oudinot at Pontoise, who had adopted his manner of painting.

Under Oudinot's direction they painted landscapes at Auvers and elsewhere. They began to exhibit at the Salon in 1864, where their works appeared regularly each year until 1868.

Edma, the elder of the two sisters, abandoned painting in 1868, when she married a naval officer named Pontillon. Berthe, therefore, was left alone. I have had the opportunity of seeing the pictures which she sent to one of her first Salons, that of 1865, a landscape and a still life. They are painted very strongly, very correctly, and, like most early work, are finished in every detail.

The landscape is in the manner of Corot. It was evidently under Corot's influence that she developed her own personal feeling and artistic invention, basing them upon the foundation of academic technique which she had learnt from her first master, Guichard. Thus she had an excellent and thoroughly serious apprenticeship. She was, without question, an artist of real accomplishment. Although she was the daughter of a wealthy family and a woman of fashion, it was impossible to regard her as belonging to the category of women painters whose attitude to art is merely that of the trifling dilettante.

As soon as they had attained a certain technique, the sisters Morisot began to work in the Louvre. At this period painting directly from nature was practised only exceptionally; in general the painters who taught in the ateliers were unfamiliar with the practice, and consequently did not inculcate it upon their pupils. They were rigorous in urging them, on the other hand, to frequent the Louvre, to make copies, and to seek to discover the secret of the great masters. Students in those days therefore worked in the Louvre in much greater numbers than to-day. While copying in the Louvre, about the year 1861, the Morisots had noticed a young artist painting close beside them, whose name was Manet. They knew him casually, but did not then pursue the acquaintance any further. He also was copying pictures — Tintoretto's portrait of himself and Titian's Virgin with the white rabbit. At that time Manet was merely a beginner ; he had just left Couture's studio, and had not yet attained notoriety. But when — after the Salon des refuses in 1863, to which he sent the Dejeuner sur Therbe, and the Salon of 1865, in which he exhibited the Olympia — he had become famous, the two sisters, who remembered the young man they had met at the Louvre, visited him in his studio to renew their acquaintance. At this time he was married and lived with his mother. The visit to the studio led to a friendship between the Morisots and Manet's wife and mother, and soon afterwards to the establishment of an intimate relationship between all the members of the two families.

After Edma Morisot was married, Berthe used to work with Manet in his studio. From that moment she passed under his immediate influence ; but she is not therefore to be regarded as his pupil. When she attached herself to him, she had nothing more to learn as regards rules and precepts ; her artistic education was finished. What she was to borrow from him was the new technique and the brilliant execution which he personally had introduced. These her own exceptional artistic gifts enabled her to appropriate. In all her subsequent production, the scale of tones and the qualities of clarity and light will be seen to be derived from Manet, but the fundamental elements of her work — her feminine individuality and her personal way of feeling — remain unchanged.

Thus the artistic relationship between Manet and Berthe Morisot was established on a permanent footing. Manet had conceived an intense dislike of professional models. He endeavoured systematically to introduce into his pictures people of a distinctive character, whom he might chance upon in his ordinary intercourse with the world In Berthe Morisot he found a characteristic type of the well-bred woman. He used her, therefore, as a model. He painted her for the first time in 1868, when she sat for the seated figure in the Balcon, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1869, and now hangs in the Luxembourg. He treated the model with considerable freedom and did not aim at great fidelity of portraiture. In a second picture, executed in 1869 and exhibited in the Salon of 1873 under the title of Le
Hepos, the likeness was more exact. The latter picture is strictly a portrait, and of all those which he painted of her the most important and the most expressive.

Berthe Morisot was, in effect, a woman whom it was impossible not to remark. It could not be said that she was really beautiful; her features lacked regularity and her complexion brilliance, but she was graceful, very distinguished, and perfectly natural. The slender, nervous body betrayed the sensitive, impressionable temperament. She possessed the physical organism which makes the artist, and certainly she was an artist by race. Whatever she did came straight from the heart, and was full of the charm and sensitiveness of her spirit. There was a perfect accord between her and her work.

So long as she remained under the influence of Corot and the tuition of Oudinot, Berthe Morisot had devoted herself almost exclusively to landscape. The works she sent to the Salon were almost entirely confined to this genre. But after she became connected with Manet, who was primarily a figure painter, sheextended the field of her art and added figure painting to landscape. At the Salon of 1870 she showed two pictures with figures : Portrait de Mme. XXX, and line jeune femme a sa fenetre. From this time onwards, at the various exhibitions in which she participated, her works were of both kinds. She sent pastels to the Salons of 1872 and 1873. She then ceased to exhibit at the Salons, in order that she might join with the Impressionists in their exhibitions. She was represented at the first exhibition in 1874, in the Boulevard des Capucines, by two pictures in oil and some pastels, comprising both landscapes and figures. After Pissarro, she was the most consistent exhibitor at the Impressionist exhibitions. With the exception of that in 1879, she took part in them all until the last in 1886.

To the exhibition of 1880, in the Rue des Pyramides, she sent the picture now in the Luxembourg, Jeune femme au bed. It may be regarded as one of the best examples of her work, after she had learnt all she could from the methods of Manet. With the precision of her first technique she had combined a softening of outline, with the object of enveloping her figures and landscape with atmosphere. The general effect is very charming. The impression is that of a work feminine in its delicacy, but never falling into that dryness and affectation which usually characterise a woman's workmanship. I will quote what I said with regard to her execution in a pamphlet on the Impressionists published in 1878; it still embodies my opinion so justly that I cannot very well express myself differently. "The colours on her canvases assume a remarkable delicacy, softness and velvet-like texture. The white holds reflected lights which carry it to a subtle shade of tea-rose or ashen grey, the carmine passes insensibly into vermilion, the green of the foliage runs through the whole gamut of tones, from the palest to the most accentuated. The artist gives the finishing touch to her canvases by adding slight brush-strokes here and there — it is as if she were shedding flowers."

Thus in bright and delicate tones she painted portraits, genre pictures depicting young girls undressed or at their toilette, landscapes, frequently with figures, in which the influence of Corot may still be detected. Then towards 1885-86 she modified her* palette. Her works reveal unforeseen effects of coloration which she had not before attempted. She shared in the tendency which led the Impressionists to give more and more accentuation to their colours. She developed simultaneously with the others, partly working out her own ideas, partly borrowing from Claude Monet and Renoir, in accordance with that practice of inter-changing methods which we have already once or twice noted in connection with the Impressionists. Her work does not lack variety. It consists, for the most part, of paintings in oil, which include her figure pictures, almost all executed in Paris; landscapes, painted chiefly at Pontoise, Compiegne, Fontainebleau, Bougival; seascapes painted on the coast of Normandy, at Nice, in Jersey, and in England. In addition she produced pastels and drawings in red and coloured chalks. She excelled especially in her water-colours, which are delightfully delicate and transparent.

In 1874 Berthe Morisot married Eugene Manet, the younger brother of the painter. She continued to sign her works by her maiden name after her marriage, and we will continue to call her by it. Both she and her husband had inherited considerable wealth. They lived in a house which they had built in the Rue Villejust. The rooms which they occupied included a large picture-gallery, in which Manet's works held the first place, and after them those of Berthe Morisot herself. The circle of their friends was limited but select ; the principal were the painters Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Claude Monet, and the poet Stephane Mallarme. The latter literally worshipped Eerthe Morisot. He admired her talent as an artist, and was attracted by her charm as a woman. Owing to his exertions on her behalf, she had the great satisfaction of seeing one of her works admitted to the Musee du Luxembourg.

The position which Berthe Morisot held in society continually obscured her reputation as an artist. The critics who talked about the exhibitions of the Impressionists usually ignored her or treated her merely as a kind of dilettante. Herein they were doing her an injustice. In virtue of her early studies, and her assiduous pursuit of art, into which she threw her whole soul, she knew herself to be the equal of any other artist, and she was secretly hurt at being treated as an amateur. In the Caillebotte collection a body of Impressionist paintings had been admitted into the Luxembourg, but it contained no work of hers. Mallarme, however, succeeded in opening the doors of the Luxembourg to her in her turn, by his instrumentality in securing the purchase of her Femme au bal.

This picture had figured in the Impressionist exhibition of 1880 in the Rue des Pyramides. Subsequently I acquired it, and on the occasion of the sale of my pictures in 1894, Mallarme thought that it was an excellent opportunity to secure one of Berthe Morisot's pictures for the Musee du Luxembourg, and that La femme au bal was an excellent example to select. He wrote, therefore, to M. Roujon, the director of the Beaux Arts, who was a great personal friend of his, urgently recommending the purchase of La femme au bal. Such anger, however, had been aroused in very influential quarters by the recent admission of the Caillebotte collection to the Luxembourg, that the addition of a new Impressionist work was a very difficult undertaking. M. Roujon came to see it, together with the directors of the Luxembourg and the Louvre. The picture spoke for itself, and the three officials at once decided upon its purchase. The price paid was 4500 francs — a sum which was even more than the market value at that time. The purchase gave Berthe Morisot genuine satisfaction ; the event was not at all extraordinary in itself, but it derived importance in her eyes from the fact that it was a public recognition of her merit, and that henceforth it was impossible to regard her any longer as an amateur, as so many had persisted in doing.

Berthe Morisot lost her husband in 1892. She had one  daughter. Frail and of a delicate constitution, she herself died on March 2, 1895.

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